Thursday, October 13, 2005

MC's fırst hamam

It is so frikkin' cold thıs morning. From my balcony I can see steam rising from the hamam, and even though I was just there last night I'm tempted to go back now.

I went around 6pm yesterday after I ran out of things to entertain myself. I wasn't comfortable going to a cafe for dinner. They were all full of men sitting around without drinking or eating, waiting for the sun to go down and the day's fast to end. I had no problem at lunch - there were enough folks eating out, both tourists and Turks. But I noticed that those following the fast were getting grumpier as the day wore on. It seemed rude to eat in front of them now.

So I got brave and went to Selçuk Hamamı. I wasn't sure what to expect, even though I had read up on the steam baths. I entered into a generic looking room, wıth a counter on the left and a distinguished looking gentleman ın a suıt sitting on a bench across from me. It looked like nothing more than the lobby of a cheap hotel, decades past her prime.

The man in the suit showed me to a cubicle where I undressed and wrapped myself ın a stiff sarong. Then, come! I followed hım to a metal door. He opened it. There was a small alcove and another metal door. Enter! Everythıng was ın the imperative. I stepped in, and he shut the door behind me.

There was nowhere to go now but forward, so I pushed open the second door, left the world I knew, and entered Byzantium.

The hamam was a simple, undecorated dome, wıth marble floors and a raısed central dais. Washbasins lined the far walls. The only lıght came from a single lightbulb and three concentric rıngs of skylights ın the upper part of the dome. A bear of a man stopped me on the threshold, and proceded to dump buckets of boılıng water over my head. When I was thoroughly cooked I went and laid on the central marble slab.

After about ten minutes the bear led me to a table in the corner, where he boiled me again, scrubbed me down wıth a coarse glove, and then boiled me a third time. After a short respite back on the dais a second man shampooed and massaged me.

The scrubbing and massage weren't as rough as I had heard they could be. Perhaps this was Hamamı Light. And to those of you of a certain persuasion: no, sorry, it wasn't.

I was wrapped in towels, and led to the lobby to dry off. The tv was broadcasting the evening prayers. The set showed the sun setting over Ankara while an imam sang the day to it's end. And while it was beautiful all I could think was sing faster! I was starving.

I was feeling clean, and wandered over to the main square. It was almost empty. I caught sıght of a few kıds, hurrying home down the sidestreets. I imagined the whole country gatherıng at their homes for the feast that would break the day's fast. Soon the plaza was quiet except for the birds and a few lingering tourists.

I thought it was the peace of Ramadan. Turns out ıt was football - Turkey versus Ireland in the World Cup Qualifying Rounds. The whole country was home ... and gathered around their tv sets waiting for the kickoff.

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